Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Zuni Cafe chicken

So, as I said in the last post, I'm finally getting with the program and trying Zuni Café's roast chicken recipe. And, as I said in the last post, the preparation is remarkably simple. Just clean and rinse the bird, pat it dry, coat with 3/4 teaspoon sea salt and pepper to taste, loosely cover and let sit in the refrigerator for two to three days.

I went for the full three days and here's the chicken at the end of that time. You can see the skin's tightened up and dried out a bit. The green bits are sprigs of rosemary stuffed under skin at each breast and thigh. I forgot to mention those.

The cooking method's just a little more complicated:
"Prepare your oven and pan: [Day of, total time is 45 minutes to 1 hour]

"Preheat the oven to 475°F. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle (we used a 12-inch cast iron frying pan for a 3 1/2 pound chicken). Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle. [I think I did this with my chicken wrong side up, actually.]

"Roast the chicken: Place the chicken in the pan in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. [My chicken started sizzling before ten minutes were up so I turned down the to 450 degrees even without any signs of charring.]

After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over — drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking. [Using well-seasoned cast iron doesn't hurt either.] Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, [15 for my 3 pound bird] then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes. [Just five, but then I was recrisping the thigh skin. No mention here of using a probe thermometer to check for 175 degrees, but I did and found it creeping over 180 so a slightly shorter time or lower temperature next time.]

"Rest the chicken: Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.

"Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, [Just the skin, not the meat. I think I cut a little too deep] then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings. You can let it rest while you finish your side dishes. The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools."

And tender and succulent it certainly was. Just as advertised. And remarkably easy to butcher into serving pieces, too. Nicely crispy skin, at least on the top side, and even the flabby skin on the bottom had been cured into palatability during the dry brine. The meat was a little too salty, and the drippings a lot too salty, but that can be adjusted easily. And all this without all of the extra oil and butter of the America's Test Kitchen and Good Eats recipes. The one big minus I thought was that, although it was really good chicken, it was just plain chicken and there's only so much to that simple flavor. Next time, I'm adding some spices or herbs or something to punch it up a little. There wasn't a hint of rosemary so just a few sprigs isn't going to do the trick. I think the herbs were in there just to prop the skin up away from the meat to help it crisp up better. Other than that, I'm quite happy with it. Now I've got to decide what to do with all the leftovers.


kat said...

What an interesting method for roasting chicken. I'll have to show it to Matt as he is the chicken chef in our house

billjac said...

It makes me wonder: if really good roast chicken is so simple and easy why are there so many complicated and convoluted recipes out there? Why didn't people discover this and then stick with it? Is it the three days wait?